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Even when all of the stakeholders in a project have the best intentions, there
are times when things do not go as planned and you must write a message that
might disappoint or irritate your client. You might need to state that the cost
for making an adjustment is your client’s responsibility. Or you might need to
refuse a request he has made. Then there are the instances when you must
devote your energies to fee collections in a series of what we euphemistically
call “reminders.”
At these times, there is the potential for tempers to flare and for your ability
to communicate in a business-like manner to be compromised. It’s important to
back off for a moment or two and think about what you need to say to your
client and how you should say it. Timeouts are particularly important to observe
when you are conducting business by e-mail and voice mail, which are temptingly
easy to send. This is how instant gratification leads to eternal mortification.
Vow never to send an angry e-mail or voice mail to a client. An e-mail message
can be forwarded, printed out, and filed, and a voice mail message can be forwarded
and replayed. Who wants that on record?
No matter what delivery method you choose, remember that as a professional
you have three goals to achieve when formulating your communication.
• Deliver the negative message to your client as soon as possible.
• Say it clearly so that your message will not be misunderstood.
• Keep open the possibility for future business dealings (if you decide
you want them).
Depending on the circumstances and what you have observed of your client’s temperament,
you can choose to write (or say) your message using the following strategies
for organization, voice, and focus. At one end of the spectrum is the high impact
message—direct and to the point, which works well for clients who are experienced
and prefer their communications to be short and quick. At the other end is a kinder,
gentler message—indirect in pattern and passive in voice, which is easier to accept
for those clients who are less experienced or who respond well to handling.
Earlier in this book when we discussed the correct way to organize a business
The message, we emphasized the importance of getting to the point immediately,
which is the first rule of the direct organization. Writing your main point first and
following with reasons and support is the rule for the majority of your business
e-mails, memos, and letters, but it is not the best way to deliver the messages we
are talking about in this section.
Writing messages that are likely to disappoint or displease your client calls
for some finessing. That is why we recommend that you learn to use an indirect
strategy for organizing your messages. The indirect organization helps your reader to
follow, understand, and accept the message and helps you to maintain as much
goodwill as possible. Indirect messages are arranged in the following sequence:
1. Introduction—state the subject and establish a neutral (professional) tone
2.Reason(s)—prepare the reader by reviewing the facts that led logically
to the refusal
3. Refusal—state your refusal based on the facts once and without apology
4.Alternative—when possible, offer a compromise or alternative solution
5. Goodwill closing—end with a positive statement
You will find specific applications throughout this chapter